Stroke: Time is key when it comes to minimising long-term damage
As figures reveal more and more middle-aged people are being affected, Liz Connor finds out how we can all improve our stroke awareness
STROKES might be something we tend to associate most with older generations, but new figures are painting a different, and quite alarming, story.
The average age of suffering a first stroke has declined fairly rapidly over the past decade, with over a third of first-time strokes now happening in people aged between 40-69, according to Public Health England (PHE).
To make matters worse, many middle-aged people aren't even aware they could be at risk, or of the warning signs to look out for.
As a result, the Act FAST campaign has been relaunched , to remind people of all ages to be aware of stroke symptoms, and call 999 urgently at the first signs.
"Strokes still claim thousands of lives each year, so the message of this campaign remains as relevant as ever," says Steve Brine MP, junior minister for public health and primary care. "The faster you act, the greater the chance of a good recovery."
:: Leading cause of disability
Strokes are a very serious, life-threatening medical condition that happen when blood supply to part of the brain is cut off – either due to a blockage in an artery (ischaemic stroke), or a leaking or burst blood vessel (hemorrhagic stroke).
When it comes to spotting the signs and getting help, time is crucial. No matter your age, urgent medical action is always required in the event of a stroke, and the sooner a person receives treatment, the less damage is likely to happen.
As PHE points out: "Around 1.9 million nerve cells in the brain are lost every minute that a stroke is left untreated, which can result in slurred speech and paralysis."
The Stroke Association's latest report found that in the UK, almost two thirds (65 per cent) of stroke survivors leave hospital with some degree of disability.
:: How to spot the signs
The FAST (Face, Arms, Speech, Time) acronym has featured in stroke awareness campaigns for a number of years now, and is a simple way to help people identify the most common warning signs. If you think someone might be having a stroke, look out for the following:
:: Face – has their face fallen on one side? Can they smile?
:: Arms – can they raise both their arms and keep them there?
:: Speech – is their speech slurred?
:: Time – time to call 999
"Calling 999 as soon as you see even one of the symptoms develop – in the face, arms and speech – is essential," says Tony Rudd, stroke physician and clinical director for stroke with NHS England. "Every minute counts and knowing when to call 999 will make a significant difference to someone's recovery and rehabilitation."
:: Cut your risk of stroke with healthy lifestyle tweaks
Strokes are often preventable, and adopting some healthy lifestyle tweaks can make a significant difference to your long-term risk of suffering one. If you've had a stroke in the past, these measures are particularly important, because your risk of having another is greatly increased. Addressing these five key lifestyle factors could help ward off stroke...
1. Maintain a healthy weight and diet
Research shows that being obese increases your chances of having a stroke related to a blood clot by 64 per cent, so taking sensible steps to maintain a healthy weight range is important. Eat a balanced diet packed with plenty of fruit and veg, and enjoy treats and high-fat foods in moderation. If you're overweight, even small changes to your eating habits, such as eating smaller portions, can help – losing as little as 10 pounds can have a big impact on your risk.
2. Quit smoking
Smoking significantly increases your risk of stroke because cigarettes damage the lining of your arteries, increasing the chance of a blood clot and raising your blood pressure. Studies have found that a smoker with high blood pressure is 15 times more likely to have a subarachnoid haemorrhage (which account for around one in every 20 strokes in the UK) than those who've never smoked.
3. Cut down on booze
Alcohol contributes to a number of conditions that can increase your risk of stroke. Official guidelines recommend no more than 14 units a week (visit drinkaware.co.uk to see exactly what this means), to be spread throughout the week – not all consumed at the weekend. A study published in the journal Stroke found that people who average more than two drinks a day have a 34 per cent higher risk of stroke, compared to those whose daily average amounts to less than half a drink.
4. Cut down on salt
Too much salt is the biggest single cause of high blood pressure in the UK – and high blood pressure is a leading cause of stroke. Official guidelines suggest adults should consume no more than 6g of salt per day. However, much of the salt we consume is 'hidden' in processed foods so if you're also sprinkling salt on your meals, you could be consuming way too much.
5. Get plenty of exercise
Decreasing your chance of having a stroke could be as simple as going for a gentle daily jog or walk. Research from Stroke Association shows that regular, moderate exercise can reduce your risk of stroke by 27 per cent – and every little helps. If you can manage it, aim to do at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, five or more times a week – but any form of movement is better than none. If you're not a fan of the gym, try and find an outdoor hobby you enjoy.